Not a Normal Day

Sometimes there’s a normal day in Washington. Those with opposing views work things out. They compromise, but the idea that compromise is a good thing seems to have waxed and waned. In 2010 it was the Tea Party crowd – it is admirable to never ever compromise. There was Obama, initially, who said he would compromise for the greater good, depending on the circumstances – but after a few year of trying that he gave up on that. The perfect may be the enemy of the good, but when the other side won’t budge in inch, even the good is impossible – issue executive orders and do what you can. There was Henry Clay (1777-1852) – the Great Compromiser – who worked out compromises on nullification and slavery that kept the nation together in the decades before the Civil War, at least for a while – but that’s ancient history. That’s no longer a model for how governance works best. Now we have Donald Trump and his “strong leadership” – but there’s nothing new there. The Republican Party had operated that way for years now, which is fine for an opposition party locked out of power. Never give in. There’s no point in that, even for the greater good. That’ll make you look weak. Those who believe in you will never vote for you again. You’ll be locked out of power forever. It’s best to wait, saying “no” to everything. Say that’s heroic. Those who believe in you will see it that way. They’ll vote. You’ll return to power.

That’s where the problems begin. Governing is compromise. Those with opposing views work things out. That’s a normal day in Washington, and this was a normal day:

Republican negotiations over how to overhaul the Affordable Care Act centered sharply Thursday on a divisive and ideological question: How much money should the Senate health-care bill spend on protecting vulnerable Americans, and how much on providing tax relief to the wealthy?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in an effort to strike a balance between centrists and conservatives is now making concessions to both factions of his caucus, according to lawmakers and aides.

Even if McConnell has locked out all Democrats, he can to do the Henry Clay thing internally:

McConnell is rewriting his proposal to provide tens of billions more for opioid addiction treatment and assistance to low- and moderate-income Americans, in part with a major policy shift that has already alarmed conservatives who oppose it – potentially preserving a 3.8 percent tax on investment income provided under the ACA that the current draft of the Senate bill would repeal.

At the same time, the Republican leader hopes to placate the right by further easing the existing law’s insurance mandates and providing higher tax deductions for the health savings accounts that conservatives favor, several Republicans said.

This is the normal business of government – the rich may not get their massive tax cut after all, but the “severe” conservatives – Mitt Romney once said he was one of those and no one believed him for a minute – will get something:

By Thursday afternoon, Senate leaders had agreed to dedicate $45 billion to opioid funding, according to GOP aides – a concession that Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) had been seeking for weeks. The draft released last week included only $2 billion.

That, however, may solve nothing. The problem is the massive Medicaid cuts. The problem is twenty-two million Americans losing health insurance. The problem is granny in the nursing home getting tossed out, and the disabled in the streets. Medicaid does a lot of good, and then there was this:

The effort was complicated by the release of a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that showed significantly deeper reductions in Medicaid spending after the legislation’s second decade than at the end of its first decade. The new analysis specifically looked at the legislation’s effect in its second decade, adding to an analysis of the first decade released at the start of the week and showing that 22 million fewer Americans would be covered by 2026.

By 2036, the new analysis said, the government would spend 35 percent less on Medicaid than under the current law, compared with a 26 percent decrease in the first decade.

The updated Medicaid estimate from the CBO, showing how spending would shrink over the next 20 years, underscored the extent to which McConnell’s plan would squeeze the long-standing public insurance program. The current draft already cuts $772 billion over 10 years from Medicaid, which covers poor and disabled Americans as well as the elderly, children and pregnant women.

McConnell wasn’t happy. No one was supposed to look that far out into the future, but the work of compromise must go on:

Meanwhile, according to lobbyists briefed on the matter, negotiators are looking at how to provide states with more ways to opt out of the ACA’s insurance mandates – a key demand of conservatives. These rules include an essential-benefits package that any ACA-compliant plan must offer, such as maternity and newborn care as well as preventive care and mental-health and substance-use treatment.

Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have indicated they could support the bill if leadership tacked on an amendment, offered by Cruz, allowing insurers to opt out of all ACA insurance requirements as long as they provide one fully compliant plan.

In short, let insurers sell low-cost junk plans that cover next to nothing – health insurance will finally be affordable for everyone – as long as insurers offer one plan that covers all the basics in a reasonable way. That one plan will be stunningly expensive but it will be available. Quality healthcare certainly will be available to all Americans, if they can afford it. Problem solved.

What? That may solve nothing anyway:

With senators leaving town Thursday for a 10-day break over the July Fourth holiday, Republicans are not likely to reach an agreement until after their return next month.

They may not reach an agreement then, and Sarah Karlin-Smith notes that these guys are bolting Washington in healthcare disarray:

With senators leaving town Thursday for a 10-day break over the July Fourth holiday, Republicans are not likely to reach an agreement until after their return next month. “In some ways, we’re going around in circles, but I think we’re getting closer on some elements,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “This is complex.”

And there’s no guarantee that time back home will make things better.

“Our members seem to have too much information and are almost in mental lockdown,” said one Republican senator, who was perplexed at where the party goes from here. “I can’t imagine going home for 10 days is helpful.”

And the opioid funding is not enough for moderates to come on board; holdouts pushing for more Medicaid money include Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rob Portman of Ohio and Dean Heller of Nevada.

“My position hasn’t changed one way or the other,” said Heller, the most vulnerable incumbent Republican. “It’s not about getting me to yes. It’s about getting Nevada to yes. Low-income families, should they have health insurance? The answer is yes.”

This was a mess, but it was a conventional mess, a normal Henry Clay kind of day in Washington, but not really:

The first tweet contained the typical name-calling fare from President Trump, the kind of attacks that no longer surprise most people – labeling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as “poorly rated” and calling its hosts “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and “Psycho Joe.”

But the second tweet, landing about six minutes later, caused an immediate and sustained uproar, as it contained a deeply personal and vulgar attack on Mika Brzezinski.

“She was bleeding badly from a face-lift,” the president tweeted Thursday morning, claiming that months earlier, Brzezinski and co-host Joe Scarborough tried to spend time with him at his private club in Florida. “I said no!”

Those words amounted to perhaps the most caustic insult that Trump has publicly hurled at another American since taking office, going beyond his usual name-calling and flame-throwing.

Donald Trump is no Henry Clay:

More than three dozen Republicans and Democrats in Congress issued tweets of their own expressing disgust, calling the remark “unpresidential,” “vile, sexist and unbecoming of an American leader,” “divisive,” “unhinged and shameful” and “amazingly graceless.” Even some of the president’s close allies warned that he needed to act like a president and stop getting into distracting fights.

And by going after a powerful female journalist’s appearance and mental health, Trump not only distracted the country from his legislative agenda for a full news cycle, but also added yet another data point to the argument that he treats women differently from men.

“It is really not normal that the president of the United States and the commander in chief would be tweeting about somebody’s face,” said Liz Mair, a longtime Republican strategist and critic of the president. “It does not conform to the norms that we expect and we treat as pretty set-in-stone in this country, but it’s also just strange.”

McConnell couldn’t have been happy about this either. Two of his holdouts, over the cuts to Medicaid, are women senators – Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska. His working group that crafted the Senate healthcare plan, in secret, was all men – thirteen of them. Collins and Murkowski weren’t invited. Those two might see a pattern here, but there was this:

Trump’s staff quickly came to his defense, saying that Brzezinski and Scarborough have said far worse things about the president and his staff.

“Look, I don’t think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute, and sit back,” deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at the White House. “Look, the American people elected a fighter. They knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump.”

Her argument seemed to be that Trump was a manly man. America wanted a manly man, after that Kenyan creampuff. Manly men fight back, even against women, or especially against women, or something, but the situation was this:

Trump once had a chummy relationship with “Morning Joe,” regularly calling in for lengthy interviews, referring to Brzezinski and Scarborough as “supporters” and offering to officiate at their wedding. But the hosts have become increasingly critical. For months, Brzezinski has raised questions about the president’s psychological health, calling him “possibly unfit mentally” and saying that he is “such a narcissist, it’s possible that he is mentally ill in a way.”

On Thursday morning, Brzezinski said that if someone took over NBC and acted as Trump has – “tweeting wildly about people’s appearances, bullying people, talking about people in the competition, lying every day, undermining his managers” – that “there would be concern that perhaps the person who runs the company is out of his mind.”

Sanders pointed to such rhetoric in her defense of Trump. “The things that this show has called him – and not just him, but numerous members of his staff, including myself and many others,” Sanders said. “It’s kind of like we’re living in the Twilight Zone. They do this day after day after day, and then the president responds and defends himself, and everybody is appalled and blown away.”

There’s that line from Dirty Dancing – “No one puts Baby in the corner!”

That might have been the idea, but there was this:

Later in the day, Sanders’s father, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, said in a Fox News Channel interview that the president “makes my daughter’s job very difficult with tweets like that.”

This was not a normal day in Washington:

Mark Kornblau, the NBCUniversal News Group’s senior vice president for communications, tweeted: “Never imagined a day when I would think to myself, ‘it is beneath my dignity to respond to the President of the United States.'” The company later released a statement saying: “It’s a sad day for America when the president spends his time bullying, lying and spewing petty personal attacks instead of doing his job.”

The tweet marked a new low in presidential history, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University.

“We make a big deal that Harry Truman told off a newspaper critic for writing a bad review of his daughter’s music concert,” he said. “How G-rated is that compared to what Donald Trump has done?”

That was the general idea:

Dozens of lawmakers from both parties, activists, political pundits and others rushed to condemn the president’s comments. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tweeted: “This has to stop – we all have a job – 3 branches of gov’t and media. We don’t have to get along, but we must show respect and civility.”

The tweets also came up in news conferences and interviews on Capitol Hill, where most lawmakers would have much rather discussed immigration and healthcare legislation.

“Obviously, I don’t see that as an appropriate comment,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said during a news conference. “What we’re trying to do around here is improve the civility and tone of the debate, and this obviously does not do that.”

Nicolle Wallace, an MSNBC host who was George W. Bush’s communications chief, used her Thursday afternoon show to urge women working in the White House to “go on the record and condemn your boss’s comments.” She challenged the women who are defending Trump and asked how mothers can raise their sons to be “good men if the most powerful man in the world gets away with this.”

“As someone who once proudly called myself a Republican, the party will be permanently associated with misogyny if leaders don’t step up and demand a retraction,” Wallace said.

Laura Ingraham, the conservative commentator who has considered working in Trump’s administration, tweeted: “MESSAGE DISCIPLINE!”

Forget that:

The president’s tweet was reminiscent of other comments that he made about women on the campaign trail – including his rival, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whom he accused of not looking presidential and lacking the “stamina” needed for the job. He made fun of GOP rival Carly Fiorina’s face; tweeted a side-by-side comparison of his wife and the wife of then-rival Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.); and lashed out at Megyn Kelly of Fox News, saying that she had “blood coming out of her whatever” as she questioned him about comments he had made about women during a debate. Since becoming president, Trump has also continued to call Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Pocahontas” in mocking a controversy over her ancestry.

Aaron Blake covers the subset of this:

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was dispatched Thursday to defend President Trump’s tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski that have earned almost universal condemnation, even from Republicans. In doing so, she made a whopper of a claim.

When a reporter at Thursday’s news briefing noted that just two weeks ago, after the shooting at a Republican congressional baseball practice, the political world talked of cooling the rhetoric to avoid such violence, Sanders was quick to respond: “The president in no way, form or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence. If anything, quite the contrary.”

This is laughable.

Even if you don’t believe Trump has technically incited violence (which he has been sued for) he clearly nodded toward violence at his campaign rallies. Sometimes it was veiled; other times it was unmistakable. Sometimes he was talking about self-defense, but it was clear he was advocating for a “form of violence.”

A few examples:

August 2015 – Trump attacked Bernie Sanders for letting Black Lives Matter protesters hijack his stage and said that kind of thing would be physically stopped at one of his events. “I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or if other people will,” he clarified.

November 2015 – “Get him the hell out of here, will you, please?” Trump said of a protester. “Get him out of here. Throw him out!” The next day, after video emerged of the protester being treated roughly, Trump said the man was “so obnoxious and so loud” that “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

February 2016 – Trump said after someone threw a tomato at a rally: “If you see somebody with a tomato, knock the crap out of them.”

March 2016 – “We have had a couple [protesters] that were really violent, and the particular one when I said I’d like to bang him, that was a very  -  he was a guy who was swinging, very loud and started swinging at the audience and the audience swung back, and I thought it was very, very appropriate.” Trump added: “He was swinging, he was hitting people, and the audience hit back, and that’s what we need.”

March 2016 – Trump suggested he would pay the legal fees of those who remove protesters if they get sued. “Get him out,” Trump said. “Try not to hurt him. If you do, I’ll defend you in court, don’t worry about it.”

There are more. Aaron Blake is thorough, and Michelle Goldberg is angry:

Trump does not get much credit for being disciplined, but for the last five months, he’s mostly checked his tendencies to leeringly appraise women’s looks, at least in public. (Vanity Fair did report in April that during a visit by the Japanese Prime Minister, “the president told an acquaintance that he was obsessed with the translator’s breasts.”) So far, there’s been no reported pussy-grabbing in the Oval Office, no stumbling in women’s changing rooms or fantasizing aloud about female subordinates on their knees. Instead Trump, like other Republicans before him, has sublimated his misogyny into policies: expanding the global gag rule, sabotaging federal family planning programs, eroding enforcement of the law against gender discrimination in education.

But Trump appears to be feeling a lot of strain. He’s obsessed with the Russia probe, and a recent Washington Post story reported that his friends “privately worry about his health, noting that he appears to have gained weight in recent months and that the darkness around his eyes reveals his stress.” When you’re under pressure, it can be harder to hide your true self.

And Trump’s true self is a pig.

That’s her word:

To Trump, women’s worth lies in their fuckability; it’s why he’s praised his own daughter by saying he’d sleep with her if they weren’t related. Trump’s tweet was meant to make Brzezinski seem grotesque and pathetic, a failure in the struggle to remain attractive – the only struggle that, in his eyes, really matters for women. (Another Vanity Fair story alleged that he only let his third wife, Melania, have a baby on the condition that she would “get her body back.”) The reference to Brzezinski “bleeding badly,” of course, also recalls his claim that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her whatever” when she aggressively questioned him during a debate; he instinctively projects his own revulsion toward menstruation onto women who threaten him.

I’m not sure that even well-intentioned men understand how relentlessly degrading this presidency is for many women. Having a man who does not recognize the humanity of more than half the population in a position of such power is a daily insult; it never really goes away.

Well-intentioned men, however, do understand a few things. Eugene Robinson understands this:

I’m not qualified to assess Trump’s mental health. But there are moments when it would be dishonest not to raise questions about his stability. If the commander-in-chief of the most powerful military force in history has a problem with impulse control, the whole world has a problem.

That is a worry:

One doesn’t need a degree in psychology to wonder if the president suffers from some deep-seated insecurity. I can’t help but think about that Cabinet meeting this month in which the top officials of our government, one by one, obsequiously told Trump what a “privilege” and a “blessing” it was to serve him. According to widespread news reports, Trump spends hours each day watching cable news and railing against his critics. He sees the various investigations into Russian meddling in the election as attacks on his legitimacy as president – yet what really undermines his legitimacy is his propensity to go off the rails.

What’s truly alarming is the self-defeating nature of Trump’s spasms. At the moment, he is trying desperately to get GOP senators to agree on a health-care bill. Did a sexist attack against Brzezinski help him with Collins or Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) or Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), who happened to be on “Morning Joe” on Thursday? Not on your life.

The obvious question: What happens if there is an international crisis and Trump’s delicate ego is threatened? Can those around him contain his worst instincts?

They’d better be able to. Not since Richard Nixon’s final days in the White House have I been so worried about a president’s grip on reality.

Those around him had better be able to deal with his problem with impulse control? Good luck with that. Mitch McConnell was having a normal Washington day. Governing is compromise. Those with opposing views work things out. Donald Trump was having a Donald Trump day – brutally attacking a woman who questioned his judgment and stability, essentially calling her an ugly skank. He likes violence. He would have punched her if he could. That’s what manly men do to women who speak up. He seemed to want to be admired for that.

He wasn’t. That will only make him angrier – and twenty-two million Americans will lose their health insurance soon enough – but he has other things on his mind. Now what? That’s no longer an idle question.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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